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Boomer Bytes #25: Is It Our Fault?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
  • See sixth column – Death – here.
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
  • See 10th column – ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here.
  • See 11th column – Volunteeering – here.
  • See 12th column – Duck and Cover – here.
  • See 13th column –  Providing for the Future – here.
  • See 14th column – Here We Go Wandering… – here.
  • See 15th column – State of Schools – here.
  • See 16th column – Our War – here.
  • See 17th column – Behind the Curtain – here.
  • See 18th column: Our Mind
  • See 19th column: Change
  • See 20th column: Memorials
  • See 21th: When is Old? 
  • See 22nd: Roles
  • See 23rd: Becoming a Dad
  • See 24th: Where Are My Roots? 

Is it our fault? 

By Steve Canipe

July 7, 2014. A column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post last week led with the headline “As leaders, boomers are a bust.”  As a boomer myself, that story led to some consternation on my part and caused me to start thinking about our (my) legacy. Have we been a bust?

When I delved into the story a bit further, I was a little relieved to see that the writer was talking about the contributions of Senator Mitch McConnell or maybe lack of them.  The writer opined “McConnell, born in 1942, was just ahead of — and for practical purposes part of — the baby boom generation that wrecked our politics over the past 20 years.”  I would argue that being born in 1942 precludes McConnell from being in our generation – certainly not in reality since our generation started in 1946 four years after the senator was born.  The writer did say “practical purposes” put him in our generation – I would disagree.

But does it really make a difference?  Have we messed up so many things that the world is not better off because we were alive?  These are deep philosophical questions and they don’t have easy, if any, answers.

Our generation is diverse in many ways – some of us are conservative and some liberal. – some Democrats and some Republicans from a political party standpoint.  Some of us are Libertarian, wanting to be left alone to do our own things. Many dichotomies abound among the many millions of us from 50-68 years old.

I thought, as I was pondering the direction for this column, whether to take a particular point of view and to try to excite some discussions among the readers.  Then I realized that we are, as a group, so diverse that I did not need to be intentionally inflammatory. We have differences of religion, politics, sexual orientation, race, gender and these are but a few of the topics I could launch into to cause readers to say “amen” or “oh my goodness” to the point of view I espoused.

My intention is not to deliberately cause people to become upset, but I wonder what happened to the idea I perceived to be one of our generational mantras of “live and let live.” This seems to have somehow slipped a little out of favor and now we, like our parents, are very opinionated and seem to take the same view that those “oldsters” who supported Viet Nam were fond of saying to anyone who objected to the U.S. involvement — :”love it or leave  the country.”

How have we become so jaundiced from our live and let live attitude?  Some would argue that we have matured (we have certainly gotten older). Have we gotten wiser or more intelligent?  Those are good questions.

I saw a survey recently on Facebook that said that 33% of Americans thought that President Obama was the worst president since World War II. While Facebook is hardly a paragon of useful information, it is nonetheless believed by lots of folks.  A subsequent posting found that 25% of Americans believed that the sun rotated around the Earth rather than the other way around.  Sounds like shades of Copernicus to me.  Are the 25% and the 33% the same individuals or different ones?  Unfortunately I don’t have the data to determine if they are the same people or not.

What the President Obama statement shows me is that there are people who dislike him so much that they answer that he is the worst since WW II.  I am not going to argue that he is the best or try to defend that he is the worst.  He has certainly had his issues, as has every president both before and after the war.

Basically the “worst” comparison is almost useless since so few people have any real data to make the comparisons needed to make the statement.  To really know if a person is the “worst” it probably requires some personal knowledge of that period of nearly 70 years.  Those who paid much attention to the presidents of the time would have needed to be at least teens even at the end of WW II.  For argument’s sake let’s say if you were 16 you would have been able to judge (I doubt this fact but let’s use that number for the sake of the formula.) If you take the voting age at the time (21) you find that as of the 2010 census there were slightly fewer than 2 million persons aged 90 or better.

A 16 year old in 1945, the year that Franklin Roosevelt died, would have been born in 1929. But a voting age individual would have been born in 1924.  This would make the 16 year old currently about 85 years old.  The percentage of the US population that is 85 or older is currently about 6 million individuals.  Our total population is close to 314 million.  So the percentage of our population that actually lived through all the presidents, and presumably has some personal basis for an opinion of best and worst is not quite 2%.  The other 31% have perhaps studied or more likely used some means to arrive at their opinions. Perhaps they were being led to that opinion because of other considerations. A key point would be how closely did a 16 year old pay attention to Roosevelt or Truman, or Eisenhower, etc.

Opinions do not have to be informed by anything other than they are there.  Some may be based on fact or reading what others think, prejudices, or training just about anything can cause opinions to be formed.

Back to the point of boomers being a bust– so do the leaders in Congress really represent us as Boomers or is their voter constituency a very narrow piece of the population?  Well firstly, as has already been pointed out Senator McConnell is not a Boomer.  Neither is Senator Reid nor Congresswoman Pelosi.  Only Congressman Boehner, born in 1949,  is actually a Boomer. For Congress, it is only necessary to carry a very small part of the population in a Congressional district…I know you would argue that you have to have 50% plus 1 vote.  But that percentage is only of the voting population not the entire potential voting population in the district.

During the 2012 election the turn-out in our area was around 60%.  For example our representative in District 5,  Ms. Foxx (not a Boomer as she was born in 1943) got slightly less than 60% of the voters who voted – so she was elected with at most about 36% of the voters supporting her.  Is she a Boomed who was bust?  I would contend that she is not a Boomer at all anymore that McConnell, Reid, Pelosi, and any other member of Congress older than 68!! What they may or may not have done cannot be laid at our doorstep. The average age of Congress is currently about 60. Fifty-eight of the 100 senators are Boomers and 231 of 435 in the House are Boomers according to the Wall Street Journal website.

Of course arguments can be made on both sides concerning majority of voters or majority of registered voters – obviously the best thing would be for more people to vote.  But none of this is relevant to the original point that it is not the Boomers who are responsible for the shape our country is in.  I saw in the Charlotte Observer on 3 July 2014 that confidence in Congress is now at 7%. Maybe we need a few more Boomers, although we are hardly exactly all of the same mind – Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush are cases in point. Both of these are 68 year old Boomers.

It might be that if all of us (Boomers and non-Boomers alike)  were willing to talk and listen more to each other that more useful legislation could be accomplished.  This might work better than taking the attitude displayed during Viet Nam and mentioned earlier—“love it or leave it.”

Let me hear from you about your willingness to listen to divergent ideas. This invitation is about willingness to engage in dialogue in all areas – political, religious, gender-based, etc.  Send your thoughts, either via email at [email protected] or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.